After a hiatus of nearly two years, El Chicano Mexican restaurant in downtown Kodiak will begin the process of gradually reopening this week.
The restaurant will serve its popular dishes at Tony’s Bar starting this Friday evening and continuing into the near future, until its new location is ready for service.
Ana Bravo, the restaurant’s owner, said that working out of the kitchen at Tony’s Bar will allow her to “test the waters” before fully reopening in the new location at 402 Marine Way, next to the Sun’aq tribe building.
The original El Chicano restaurant opened 40 years ago across from the Orpheum Theatre. Bravo and her husband sold the building in October 2018 with the intention of downsizing their business and eventually retiring.
The new restaurant and bar will be run by her daughter, Toni Bravo, and offer a smaller menu with all the old favorites, including nachos and License Plate Burritos, with some new additions. The space will fit about 70 customers.
“We’ve been such an integral part of the community for so many years that it's just going to change the whole dynamic of the downtown, especially the plaza area,” Bravo said. “We are going to work on changing the whole dynamic of the downtown plaza area.”
Bravo, who owns the restaurant with her husband, had originally planned to open at the new venue on May 5 for Cinco de Mayo, a celebration popular in the U.S. that commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in an 1862 battle.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and other setbacks, Bravo said she will delay the opening until a future date that has not yet been set.
When the pandemic hit and affected supply chains throughout the country, Bravo could not obtain the equipment she needed for her restaurant, specifically products that needed to be manufactured, she said.
“Everything shut down. We have to put a hood in for the kitchen, but the duct work has to be manufactured,” Bravo said. “It’s been one hit after another.”
The remodel began in early 2019, but the reopening plan has suffered a series of setbacks, including getting the right permits and licenses — a “nightmare” of a process — and adding electrical capacity because the new space was originally intended for retail rather than for preparing and serving food, she said.
“It’s all the codes — city codes, borough codes — (and) all the regulations. Everything has to be approved step by step,” she said.
Despite the setbacks, she noted that the building that will house El Chicano is in a great location right in the heart of downtown — near other bars and restaurants, as well as seafood processing plants and the harbor where fishermen dock and work on their boats.
Before opening her restaurant, Bravo worked at a local seafood processing plant, and made burritos and other food for her coworkers. She hated working at the plant, and quit six months after she started.
Bravo then started selling her homemade Mexican delicacies at a booth at Crab Fest, and after three years she opened El Chicano in 1980.
Bravo said all her recipes come from her family, who taught her the Mexican art of cooking while living in her hometown of East Los Angeles.
“The best thing was making the tamales. Even the whole neighborhood would get in on it,” she said, recalling fond memories centered around food and community.
She refers to her cuisine as Mexican “soul food,” comforting food that the community has been missing since the restaurant closed.
El Chicano will temporarily operate out of the kitchen at Tony’s Bar on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 p.m. to midnight.